Four Buffalo nonprofits were awarded $100,000 from the Open Society Foundations to design a plan to increase low-income and minority communities’ influence and access to economic, civic, and political opportunities in the area. The planning grant is part of the foundation’s new Open Places Initiative, which aims to bring about systemic change relating to equity, justice, and democratic practice. Leading the project is a new collaborative called Open Buffalo, founded by the four groups that the Open Societies Foundation asked to work together: the Partnership for the Public Good, the Coalition for Economic Justice, PUSH Buffalo, and
Buffalo was one of sixteen sites asked to apply, and one of eight to win funding. The next step is to propose a multi-issue, multi-faceted plan for building the region’s capacity to bring about long-term change. In late 2013, the foundation will award implementation grants to three to five sites with funding of up to $1 million per year for a minimum of three years and potentially a full decade.
According to Lou Jean Fleron, co-director of the Partnership for the Public Good, the Open Buffalo collaborative will be reaching out to a broad range of groups and individuals for help in crafting the proposal. “There will be Open Buffalo events and conversations all around town this summer, each one infused with local arts and culture,” said Fleron. “This kind of systemic change will require a whole new way of talking about Buffalo.”
“It is great to see national funders investing in Buffalo’s future,” said Mayor Byron W. Brown. “This is a great step towards a more democratic region, promoting opportunity for the entire community,” said Maria Whyte, Commissioner of the Erie County Department of Environment and Planning.
“It’s amazing the extent of community networks that have been built here over the past several years, including a new generation of Buffalo’s leaders,” said Paul T. Hogan, vice president of the John R. Oishei Foundation. “This award recognizes that and provides a huge boost to continuing the work of moving change forward.”
Brenda McDuffie, president of the Buffalo Urban League, said “This is a great opportunity for us all to work together to make Buffalo more inclusive, innovative, and unified.”
“To win the next level of this grant,” said Jennifer Diagostino, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Justice, “we’ll need to show that Buffalo is capable of big things. We’re confident that it is.”
Aaron Bartley, executive director of PUSH Buffalo, said, “Some of the issues we’ll be addressing are equal justice, equal opportunity, good government, and sustainable wealth creation for all. We want to build on our local successes while also learning from other cities.”
Louisa Pacheco, executive director of VOICE-Buffalo, said that part of the goal is to train and empower a large number of community leaders to make their voices heard in the region’s policy debates. “No more decisions made by three men in a room,” said Pacheco. “We need hundreds and thousands of citizens in the room.”
“There are fundamental changes occurring in local communities across the country—budgetary, demographic, technological, and otherwise. Local leadership and knowledge are the starting points in developing the necessary tools and capacities to manage these changes in ways that further local equity and justice interests,” said Ken Zimmerman, director of U.S. Programs at the Open Society Foundations. “We congratulate the groups that won planning grants. They have great potential to chart a new course.”
By gaining new skills, increasing civic capacity, and expanding local and national relationships,
the Open Society Foundations expects the final Open Places sites to develop more innovative and coordinated approaches to address local challenges for the long-term. The Open Places sites’ successes and failures will provide lessons for replication in other cities, regions, and states.
“We will hit the ground running,” said Fleron, noting that the group will have an immediate presence on Facebook and Twitter and will move quickly to start holding public events. “We want people to start tuning in and telling us their stories and ideas for creating a more open Buffalo.”